Enter In Prayer, Stay In Prayer, Leave In Prayer
Yes, we’ll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God. – Refrain, “Shall We Gather At The River”, Robert Lowry
It is Sunday morning. Millions of Christians around the world have or will gather together this morning to give praise and honor and glory to our God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We shall confess our sins. We shall sing our praises. We shall offer our prayers. We shall gather around the table The LORD sets for us, remembering and hoping that this gathering has been and will be our final gathering place. We shall hear the Word read and proclaimed, the Good News offered to us. We shall hear the commandment to share that Good News in and through our words and lives with the whole world.
It is Sunday morning. It is the time to worship.
For all the nonsense, not only in the United Methodist Church but in all churches however they call themselves, this is the day and the hour we gather before God to sing and pray and be renewed by our God of eternal life. All our strife and name-calling. All the carrying on, the myriad ways division and discord are sewed, threats of schism and denunciations as heretics for this or that ridiculous reason gets set aside as the people of God in all our glorious diversity of languages, traditions, doctrines, and worship styles will allow the Spirit to intercede for us, taking our fumbling words and half-hearted confessions and offerings and make of them something holy, something worthy, acceptable to the Father in the Son.
One church might have people sitting quietly. Another might feature rousing choruses, people standing and clapping and shouting for joy. Still another might have people move from seated to kneeling to standing. Of course the Russian Orthodox Church continues the ancient tradition of people standing in worship (and please not that gorgeous altar in the photo). The reality of diverse worship styles should humble our need to insist on particular ways in which we as the gathered people of God sing, pray, hear, taste, and confess our lives. Our Sunday realities belie whatever demands we make of others the rest of the week.
We all get so caught up in our own little agendas, I think we forget that the true test of whatever we offer others is how well our words match up to what others are really doing in the real world. I don’t just mean ethical controversies about sex, say, or deep doctrinal differences such as those between the East and West or Protestant and Roman. Even those temptests in tea-pots like whether or not to clap in worship; whether shouting acclamation during sermons is acceptable; whether we dress in suit and tie or shorts and a t-shirt. The reality is these are all part of the worshiping life of Christians around the world, and as we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, on this day most especially, grace should be our first response to those in our midst who might look or act in ways different from “the way we’ve always done it”.
Most of all, Sunday should be the day we set to one side the ridiculous shouting about who’s right and who’s wrong; who’s a heretic and who’s orthodox (however that word is defined); who is really a Christian and who’s just going through the motions. If the doctrine of original sin has any meaning at all; if the need for salvation is as real as we claim it to be; if the reality of constant confession and the intercession of the Spirit even in our holiest of moments is necessary; perhaps we should be just a bit less strident, at least on this day, even to those whose ideas about some things strike us as funny:
Right or wrong, these no less than we are children of God, beloved and embraced. Is anyone willing to say that even these blessed Baptist believers exist outside the bounds of the Christian faith? Just how sure are any of us, on this day when we confess our sins; confess our need always for God’s presence; accept the just Word that our sins should require our death but that God has chosen life for us; just how sure are we that the Spirit isn’t hovering over those waters of chaos, that Christ isn’t present because two or three are gathered in the name of the Crucified and Risen One?
In the bulletins in my home church as a child, “Enter In Prayer. Stay In Prayer. Leave In Prayer” appeared just before the announcement of the Prelude. Few things have been as formative for my faith and worship life as those nine words. It is time to worship, to gather before our God to give honor and glory and praise; to confess our inability so to come based on any merit we have; to be thankful for the grace offered to us in Word, at the Table, and in the Water of our Baptisms. In all the ways we are so different, we are all the same. Let us now worship our God.